Call it optimism or an uptick in talks, or call it a change in tone or even a thaw in the negotiations between Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins. But don’t call it a new set of facts or even a new set of numbers – because it isn’t.
If the Redskins want Cousins back in the fold, it’s going to cost the franchise somewhere between $50 million and $60 million in guaranteed money. No amount of warming is going to change that.
For all the banter of deadlines being set and talks being put back into gear, the Redskins haven’t gotten themselves out of the financial corner they backed themselves into last offseason. If anything, it’s getting worse. Consider where the market is going:
• The Oakland Raiders are working toward a monster contract with Derek Carr; as are the Detroit Lions and Matthew Stafford. Those two deals are expected to reset the financial ceiling on franchise quarterbacks. One of those two players will likely be the highest-paid player in the NFL when the ink dries.
• The Chicago Bears gave quarterback Mike Glennon what amounts to a one-year deal for $16 million in guaranteed money in 2017. The same Glennon who threw 11 passes in zero starts over the past two seasons.
• Despite the buzz over the quarterback class in the 2018 NFL draft, the jury is still out on the elite prospects. A handful of personnel men who spoke to Yahoo Sports over the past two weeks have largely carried the same message: Next year’s class should be better than this year’s crop, but there are no guarantees with any of the top-tier guys. USC’s Sam Darnold has one year of success under his belt and has to show he can repeat his lightning-in-a-bottle season. UCLA’s Josh Rosen struggled last season and now teams have an eye on his health. And while Wyoming’s Josh Allen has a superb arm, he has yet to show teams he can cut down turnovers and improve accuracy.
All of that is leverage for Cousins, not to mention the fact that head coach Jay Gruden is in his corner and the staff would be putting itself at risk with a reset at the position. And league sources have said that three factors put these negotiations on more favorable footing.
First, the ousting of general manager Scot McCloughan has changed the landscape. McCloughan was lukewarm on Cousins and didn’t have a firm belief that the quarterback’s arrow was pointing upward in future seasons. When a general manager has that belief, it makes it far easier for someone like team president Bruce Allen to pull the purse strings tight and refuse to pay high-end QB money.
Second, the ousting of McCloughan was ugly, public and dirty and has put the organization into a position of needing some wins. Not only on the field, but also where it concerns having a solidified plan moving forward. Locking Cousins up long-term would set the compass in a dedicated direction and move the organization beyond McCloughan. There is danger that cuts both ways in this, of course. If Cousins fails, the storyline becomes how McCloughan was right and the team never should have committed to him in the long term. But if Cousins succeeds in taking the Redskins to the next level, McCloughan can be painted as the reticent general manager who stood in the way of Washington closing a necessary and beneficial commitment. With Allen already carrying some stink from how McCloughan’s firing went down, betting big on the player McCloughan doubted could dramatically change the tone of how he is portrayed in Washington and beyond.
Finally, moving beyond DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon isn’t the worst thing for the Redskins when it comes to the internal perception of Cousins. There are those who support Cousins who continue to insist that some people in the building could never grow beyond seeing him as an overachieving fourth-round quarterback. Jackson in particular has always run hot and cold with his quarterbacks, so rotating him out along with Garcon gives Cousins a chance to start with some fresh eyes. Terrelle Pryor, Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson are those fresh eyes. They don’t really know Cousins as the guy who went through all of the drama with Robert Griffin III and a sour quarterbacks room. Instead, all they know is Cousins being the guy who has thrown for 9,083 yards and 54 touchdowns the past two seasons.
Given all of that – and the fact that face-to-face meetings have occurred in recent weeks – it’s fair to note reasons for optimism in the talks. But, again, this all comes down to money. And after betting on himself successfully in back-to-back seasons, there’s no reason to believe Cousins is suddenly going to give the Redskins a big discount to get a deal done. Not with $24 million in guaranteed money in the fold this season and more than $34 million on the table with another franchise tag.
Regardless of emotions or tones or meetings, the math tells the story. And the math says the next two franchise tags are going to cost the Redskins $58 million. When they’re ready to guarantee that kind of money to Kirk Cousins, that’s when this long-term contract will get done.